All anyone could talk about after Sunday’s loss was the fake field goal that the Lions failed to complete early in the 4th quarter. But what I couldn’t stop thinking about was the ensuing 97-yard drive that the Lions gave the Steelers. People have been quick to point out that the botched fake field goal was the defining moment of the game, but I’m really not sure that’s the case. I believe the defining moment was the 7 minute, 97-yard drive that the Lions gave up on defense. And keep in mind, during this drive the Lions still held the lead 27-23.
The problem that the Lions can’t seem to shake is their inability to stop the pass, even though they’re forcing teams to become one dimensional by stuffing the run. This is why I’m putting the loss on the players, not the coach.
I couldn’t wait to see the ALL-22 film to see exactly what went wrong on that 97-yard drive in the fourth quarter. And after watching, the short answer is this: a little bit of everything. From missed tackles to dropped interceptions and everything in between, the Lions simply couldn’t make the plays they needed to when it counted.
3rd & 9 (11:25) B. Roethlisberger to A. Brown for 16 yards
Chris Houston initial tries to jam Antonio Brown at the snap, but misses badly (this is becoming a not-so-good habit for Lions’ cornerbacks). DeJon Gomes is late to react from his deep safety spot, leaving a huge hole in the middle of the field. It’s an easy read and throw for Big Ben, even with Suh bearing down in the end zone.
2nd & 12 (8:21) B. Roethlisberger incomplete to A. Brown
This was one of the many opportunities the Lions had throughout the game to create turnovers. The problem is that on every opportunity, they failed to capitalize. Here, Ben Roethlisberger tries to throw deep to Antonio Brown, but the throw comes up short. Rashean Mathis puts himself in great position to make a play, but like many before, he fails to haul in the interception.
A turnover here would have given the ball back to Lions with about 8 minutes left and a 4 point lead. The incompletion just gives the Steelers another try.
3rd & 12 (8:14) B. Roethlisberger scrambles for 10 yards
This was another big play on this drive. It’s 3rd and long, and the Lions come out in zone in order to keep everything in front of them. The Lions are in pretty good shape until Roethlisberger starts to scramble. Both Don Carey and Stephen Tulloch take the receiver and neither take Big Ben into account. As you’ll see throughout the drive, Carey’s over-aggressiveness gets the best of him.
The Lions end up getting Roethlisberger down 2 yards shy of a first down, but because of game situation and field position the Steelers end up going for it on 4th and 2. The Lions end up giving up that 4th down conversion, keeping the Steelers drive alive for another set of downs.
2nd & 10 (6:16) B. Roethlisberger to J. Cotchery for 19 yards
Here is another example of Carey getting a little to aggressive. Rather than breaking down after the catch and making the sure tackle, he over pursues the receiver. Jericho Cotchery then outruns the defense before getting knocked out of bounds after a 19 yard pickup. Instead of stopping the Steelers for a 5 yard gain, poor tackling gives them yet another fresh set of downs, this time inside the 5 yard line.
2nd & Goal (5:35) B. Roethlisberger incomplete to J. Cotchery. PENALTY on R. Mathis
While it may or may not have mattered in the long run, holding in the end zone is still something the secondary absolutely couldn’t afford to do. In a drive where the Lions couldn’t do anything to stop the Steelers the last thing they could do is give them more shots at the end zone.
2nd & Goal (4:50) B. Roethlisberger to W. Johnson for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN
Don Carey ends up being the culprit once agin. Here the Steelers send fullback Will Johnson in motion across the formation. Don Carey moves with him right before the snap.
At the snap, Roethlisberger does a slight play action, and that’s all he needs to hold Carey’s attention. Carey is so focused on stopping the run that he completely takes his eyes off of Johnson as he sneaks out of the backfield.
Those few missed steps were all Roethlisberger needed to deliver the ball to a wide open Johnson in the end zone–putting the Steelers up 30-27.
Lions fans better hope cornerback Bill Bentley heals up quick because the Lions secondary is hurting without him. Bentley wasn’t playing great before he exited the week 8 game against the Cowboys, but his absence has put a domino effect in the Lions secondary. The Lions had hoped to move rookie Darius Slay into the lineup, but because of his inconsistent play in Chicago they were forced to move backup safety Don Carey into the nickel spot. That was all well and good until starting safety Glover Quin went down with an injury late in Sunday’s game. That forced third string safety DeJon Gomes into the starting lineup.
This proved be a fatal combination for the Lions secondary against the Steelers. Even though the Lions were able to hold the Steelers to just 40 yards rushing they were gashed though the air for over 350 yards. That’s not an anomaly either. The opposing passing offenses have taken the Lions to task this season.
The Lions have allowed 8 100-yard receivers in their 10 games.
— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) November 18, 2013
As a unit, the Lions secondary hasn’t had a single interception since the Week 4 matchup against the Bears. And as you can see above, they’ve allowed eight receivers to 100-yard games so far this season. That’s simply not good enough. The Lions coaching staff harped all offseason about how important it was to be ahead in the turnover battle, and the Lions aren’t getting it done.
The combination of poor coverage and absent pass rush make defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham a prime candidate for the hot seat. He finally has the talent he says he’s wanted on all phases of the defense, and they’re still not producing. To me, that comes down to coaching. And it’s something to keep an eye on as the season moves forward.
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